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Canadian legal luminaries sign letter accusing Iranian courts’ of persecuting Baha’i faith

The rulings of a court in a rural corner of northeastern Iran have brought together a Who’s Who of Canada’s legal profession to denounce the mistreatment of members of a religious minority who are being driven from their homes.

One former prime minister — Brian Mulroney — three former attorneys-general (including Jody Wilson-Raybould and Irwin Cotler) and four former Supreme Court justices are among those who signed their names to a letter calling for justice for the Baha’i residents of the village of Ivel, where 27 families were recently evicted from their homes.

The letter was also signed by several former provincial Supreme Court and appeals court judges and professors of law.

Cotler said it was the “punitive and predatory” nature of Iranian court rulings against the Baha’i that struck a chord with Canada’s jurists, along with the judges’ use of openly discriminatory arguments.

The Iranian courts’ claim that they were following Islamic law in confiscating property from non-believers has been rejected by many Muslim groups outside Iran, including the Canadian Council of Imams.

“I think that what was so outrageous here was the judicial complicity, brazenly acknowledging that they were engaged in this persecution based solely on what they called ‘the perverse sect of Bahaism,’ which is known to all the signatories to be a peaceful religious minority,” said Cotler.

“I might add that in this legal process, the Baha’is’ counsel were not allowed to see any evidence against them, not allowed to adduce any evidence, not permitted to make any representations. In other words, [the ruling was] not only an abandonment of due process, [it] adds to the entire shocking legal and judicial complicity in this.”

Crimes of faith

Cotler said Ivel’s Baha’is have suffered years of official persecution.

“There’ve been a series of home raids, assaults, confiscations, arrests, imprisonment,” he said.

“In 2020 we saw an alarming new chapter — two courts sanctioning the confiscation of their property based on religious belief.”

The confiscation was carried out by members of a state-affiliated organization called Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order (EIKO) that answers directly to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The U.S. Treasury Department accuses EIKO of controlling “large swaths of the Iranian economy, including assets expropriated from political dissidents and religious minorities, to the benefit of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and senior Iranian government officials.”

The Canadian letter is addressed to Iran’s chief justice, Ebrahim Raisi, who is in charge of Iran’s investigation into the destruction of Flight PS752 with 176 people on board. Raisi is often touted as a potential successor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.


Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corp fired two surface-to-air missiles at Flight PS752 killing all 176 people onboard on Jan, 8, 2020. Iran’s Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi is in charge of Iran’s investigation of the aircraft’s destruction. (Reuters)

A history of persecution

“The Baha’is have been persecuted since the inception of their faith in Iran in the 19th century,” said Winnipeg Baha’i Payam Towfigh. He said that persecution caused him to leave Iran for Canada, while his parents already had been exiled internally in the country because of local hostilities.

“Right after they got married in the 1940s, they moved to a village close to Ivel named Damghan, which had a number of Baha’is there,” he said.

But local mullahs incited the village’s Muslim population against the “heretics” living among them, he said.

“A few of the Baha’i were murdered. My father ended up in jail because of the Baha’i belief that he had,” he said.

“After a year or two they had to leave at night because some of their neighbours told them there were rumours they were going to come and burn their house down. So they had to leave town in the night.”

Since the Islamic Revolution, said Towfigh, the persecution has become national and organized. “It’s no longer just local religious leaders inciting the population against the Baha’i,” he said. “Now it’s systematic and it’s the leader of the country.”

He said the estimated 300,000 Baha’is across Iran have watched their situation grow worse.

“Over the last couple of years, Baha’is have lost their shops, their stores, they’ve been kicked out of their homes,” he said. “Government agents feel very comfortable coming to their homes at night and just taking them away to jail.

“What really we are worried about is that this is a test case that could now be replicated and copied around Iran.”

Change of heart unlikely

While Cotler said he believes the letter to Iran from some of the best-known legal minds in Canada “is unprecedented,” he’s “not sure that Chief Justice Raisi will pay attention.”

With little hope of a change of heart by the Islamic Republic regime, Cotler said the letter-writers intend to pursue their case in international courts and to call on the Canadian government to use Magnitisky sanctions to punish those who have benefited from the expropriations.

Foreign Minister Marc Garneau has tweeted about the evictions, but the Trudeau government — which doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Iran — has taken no substantive actions.


Canada has used Magnitsky sanctions against Russia, Venezuela, South Sudan and Myanmar, but no Iranian official has been subjected to the measure. The U.S. Treasury Department, meanwhile, has sanctioned Raisi as an individual.

Towfigh said he has no illusions about the letter changing hearts and minds within the regime.

“I am certain that they will dismiss it,” he said. “From what I’ve seen in the past, that will be the posture they will have.”

But he said it’s still a worthwhile effort, for two reasons.

“The more important one is the effect on the Baha’i who are in Iran right now, when they see and hear that they are not forgotten,” he said.

“Because the authorities — not only in Iran but under all of these despotic governments — want to remind oppressed individuals that everyone has forgotten about you, you may as well give up, change your religion. So this brings hope and reminds people that the world has not forgotten about them.

“Secondly, Iran may dismiss this but they are still mindful of their image in the world. Prominent people bringing this up in the United Nations — I personally believe it does have an effect on their behaviour.”

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Writers, academics sign open letter criticizing ‘ideological conformity,’ cancel culture

Dozens of artists, writers and academics have signed an open letter decrying the weakening of public debate and warning that the free exchange of information and ideas is in jeopardy amid a rise in what they call “illiberalism.”

J.K. Rowling, Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood are among dozens of writers, artists and academics to argue against ideological conformity in an open letter in Harper’s Magazine.

The names hail from a host of different sectors, from cognitive scientist Noam Chomsky to activist Gloria Steinem, jazz great Wynton Marsalis to chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov to Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Academics on the list of more than 150 signatories hail from American universities such as Princeton, Yale, Harvard Law, Brown, Rutgers and more.

In addition to Atwood, other Canadian signatories include political pundit David Frum, longtime New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell, former federal Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff and literary critic and writer Jeet Heer.

The letter comes amid a debate over so-called cancel culture — where prominent people face attack for sharing controversial opinions.

“The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy,” the letter said.

“But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.”

Rowling, for example, has attracted criticism over her views on transgender issues, which have angered many activists. In a series of tweets, Rowling said she supported transgender rights but did not believe in “erasing” the concept of biological sex.

The comments prompted Daniel Radcliffe and other cast members of the Potter films to publicly disagree with her. Rowling was unmoved, but has been trading barbs with critics online.

The letter criticized the state of public debate and the “swift and severe retribution” dealt out to any perceived wrongs. It decried an “intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.”

“The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away,” the letter said. “We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other.

Heated debate online

The letter garnered pushback and has sparked heated debate since being posted Tuesday by Harper’s and circulated by a number of the signatories on social media.

Critics have pointed out that some of those who signed have engaged in the same toxic behaviour they decry in the letter. Others cited the disconnect over signatories holding such prominence, positions of power and with large public platforms complaining about having their speech stifled. 



Historian Kerri Greenidge, who was listed among the original signatories, said she did not endorse the letter and asked for a retraction. A writer on the list, Jennifer Finney Boylan, apologized for her participation, saying she thought she was “endorsing a well meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming” and was not aware of the full list of signatories.


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CBC | World News

Prince’s Estate Releases a Powerful Handwritten Letter From the Singer About Racial Intolerance

Prince’s Estate Releases a Powerful Handwritten Letter From the Singer About Racial Intolerance | Entertainment Tonight

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‘I cried over every page’: Edmonton author pens ‘pre-dementia love letter’ to her daughters

Rhonda Hoffman remembers some of the early signs that her mother was facing dementia: forgetting things, like a name that would usually come back to her, but didn’t; mixing fact with fiction; confusing things.

But one of the most jarring signs was seeing her mother at the end of a table full of about 20 people at a family dinner: her head down, not really engaged, quiet.

“That one still breaks my heart,” Hoffman said in an interview on CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active on Monday.

“And sometimes you would get frustrated, thinking you know, ‘Come on Mom, play along.'”

Edmonton author Rhonda Hoffman tells us about the personal story about dementia. A story that led her to write the book “When I’m Not Me Anymore – A Love Letter to My Daughters”. 8:07

According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, 564,000 Canadians are currently living with dementia. That number is expected to rise to 937,000 in 15 years. Two-thirds of those affected by the neurodegenerative conditions are women.

Like thousands of other Canadians, Hoffman watched dementia slowly take away her mother’s memories.


Rhonda Hoffman with her mother Eileen Holomis, who died in 2018. (Submitted by Rhonda Hoffman)

Eileen Holomis died last year at 93. 

After spending years caring for her, Hoffman decided to write a book to help her own daughters, if they end up one day caring for her.

The book is called When I’m Not Me Anymore: A Pre-Dementia Love Letter to My Daughters

“Just because my mom had dementia doesn’t mean I’m going to, but if I do go down that same road, it would have been so nice to have a heads up on a lot of this,” Hoffman said. “And I think like a lot of people, I didn’t really give it much thought until it became part of my life.”

Released in November, the 64-page book is Hoffman’s way of telling her daughters Rebecca, 31, and Rachel, 29, how she feels while she still has full command of her faculties. 

“I cried over every page,” Hoffman said. “But they know that I love them. I think it’s different when you see it in writing. And it was a labour of love and they’ve received it as that.”

‘A road map’

The book is a bit of a road map, Hoffman said, filled with knowledge she gained through her journey with her mother. 

“It’s things like, don’t argue with me, agree with me,” Hoffman said, citing a tip she learned from Alzheimer’s expert Jo Huey’s 10 Absolutes of Alzheimer’s Care.

“You’re the one who knows what’s right and wrong. I don’t. So let me have it,” Hoffman said. “If I wish you a Merry Christmas in June well, let’s have eggnog because it doesn’t really matter … it doesn’t help to argue.

“I’m still a real person with real feelings and I respond to respect like anybody else would.”


Rhonda Hoffman’s mother Eileen Holomis, pictured here in an old family photo, died in 2018 at 93. (Submitted by Rhonda Hoffman)

The book is only Hoffman’s first step with her daughters. Over the next few years, the three of them will get together and record audio and videos of them asking her questions of anything they want to know about their mother. 

The exercise is like a reversal of the camcorder tapes Hoffman took of her daughters when they were small, she said. 

“When I pull those tapes out now and I can see their little faces and the way they walked and hear their voices … that’s a treasure. You can’t get that back. So to document it now in that way, years down the road they’ll have that same feeling.”

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CBC | Health News

Taylor Swift Pens Powerful Letter in Support of Pro LGBTQ Equality Act: ‘We Have a Great Distance to Go’

Taylor Swift Pens Powerful Letter in Support of Pro LGBTQ Equality Act: ‘We Have a Great Distance to Go’ | Entertainment Tonight

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A Love Letter to Leta Lestrange, the Tragically Unsung Hero of ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’

Warning: Spoilers for “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” below.

One of the main problems with the new Fantastic Beasts film, The Crimes of Grindelwald, lies right there in the title.

While the latest installment in the Harry Potter spinoff franchise is another thrilling adventure — following Eddie Redmayne’s enigmatic and endearing Newt Scamander as he returns to Europe with his magical menagerie — there is little mystery to its main villain, given how much we already know from Potter canon.

We know Grindelwald is Bad, with a capital “B,” because he is essentially the monde magique’s 1920’s equivalent of an ascending fascist leader — he wants to “Make the Wizarding World Great Again,” believing that people with magical blood deserve to rule the world, no matter how many Muggles must suffer to achieve that goal. We also know he’s Bad because Johnny Depp has one ice blue contact lens, which he uses to mug menacingly into the camera, and because Jude Law’s dapper young Dumbledore tells us so. (And we know that Dumbledore is Good — fallible and troubled by his connection with the villainous rogue, certainly, but ultimately righteous — so we trust him.)

That doesn’t leave much intrigue left over for Grindelwald himself — save for the further-teased-but-barely-realized romantic bond he and Dumbledore shared as young wizards. In fact, until the film’s final scenes, most of the titular villain’s “crimes” are dispatched to lackeys — including the murder of a young family just so he can use their apartment in Paris. (There is a truly bone-chilling parallel for Potter fans when the wizard grins wickedly as he encounters the dead couple’s toddler — for just a moment, another “boy who lived” — but even that roadblock is ultimately cast off for an underling to eliminate.)

Plus, we know how all of this ends. We know Grindelwald will ultimately duel with Dumbledore and lose, we know he will have the Elder Wand taken from him. We know that he’ll die in exile at the hand of his former friend-with-blood-pact-benefits, and that another dark wizard will take up his cause for a world ruled by a magical minority. We’re even warned, about halfway through, that his grand final gesture in the film’s final act, a rally of his supporters at a graveyard in France, will be a trap. And it is.

Truthfully, it’s not just a Grindelwald problem. Some of the movie’s most compelling characters are the ones we know the least about in Potter canon and get to explore, to varying degrees, in this new installment: among them Ezra Miller’s Credence Barebone, Katherine Waterston’s Tina Goldstein, and especially, Zoe Kravitz’sLeta Lestrange.

Fans know Leta from the first Fantastic Beasts — Newt carries her photo with him and tells Queenie (Alison Sudol) they were friends during their time at Hogwarts — butCrimes of Grindelwaldgives us a closer look at the character, as well as her complicated relationship with the siblings Scamander. (Callum Turner is perfectly cast as Newt’s older brother, Theseus, an auror who seems proud to follow every rule that his sibling flouts. He is also, as it turns out, Leta’s fiance.)

Kravitz stuns as an underappreciated star of the movie, which unfortunately relegates most of her character’s genuinely fascinating and tragic backstory to an exposition montage crammed just before the final set piece. From the first moment Newt runs into her at the London Ministry of Magic, however, we understand that the two share a meaningful emotional bond, and in a film packed with spectacular special effects and impressive animation work, some of the most thrilling sequences are the far simpler flashbacks to their time together at Hogwarts.

Leta’s family name will give Potter fans pause, just as it gives her classmates ammunition to scorn her, but unlike some of her relatives, it’s a legacy she’s carried joylessly through her tumultuous life — unloved by her wicked father and cast aside for a more desirable male heir.

“Being a Lestrange is an interesting thing,” Kravitz told ET of her character at the premiere of her thriller, Gemini, earlier this year.  “She’s not just a bad girl, she’s just had a really complicated past and been misunderstood. I think the Lestranges as a family are just misunderstood people.”

It’s clear Leta has always had an ally in Newt, similarly shunned by his peers. We even know that Newt taking the fall for Leta was what led to his expulsion from Hogwarts in the first place. And while the magizoologist’s friends express concern for his lingering feelings towards his brother’s bride-to-be, it’s obvious from Kravitz’s performance that there’s a connection that remains on Leta’s end as well.

“You’re too good, Newt,” she warns him late in the film. “You never met a monster you couldn’t love.”

And then, she dies. (At least, I think that’s what we’re supposed to believe happens when Grindelwald uses his furious blue flames to turn dissenters and attacking aurors into Thanos dust.) With little more than an “I love you” cast in the direction of both Scamander brothers — leaving her intended target up for interpretation — Leta shuns Grindelwald’s offer of infamy and acceptance and is obliterated into a blaze of something less than glory.

But why?

Fascinating as she is, Leta gets a little lost in the colossal amount of story that The Crimes of Grindelwald packs into its 133-minute runtime, and her death leaves a number of questions unfortunately unanswered. It’s hard not to leave the movie thinking that every on-screen moment Depp’s rote reprobate spends skulking in a Parisian parlor would have been better spent on a story like her’s: a multi-racial Slytherin witch with warring streaks of darkness and light in her, who holds one of the keys to the mystery of Credence’s sought-after family history. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that with a little more exploration into Leta’s story, this installment could easily have been titled The Crimes of the Lestrange Family.

So, here’s hoping we get to see more of Kravitz’s character in future Fantastic Beasts films — if only in flashbacks — to learn more about her time at Hogwarts with Newt, what happened in the interceding years, and how she ended up with Theseus instead. Her memory will almost certainly be called upon to inform the brothers’ relationships in future films in the franchise; it’s a shame she won’t be there to see it.

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Vatican 'owes God an apology' over abuse allegations: N.L. activist's letter

The prominent founder of a Newfoundland organization for clergy abuse survivors has written a letter to Pope Francis that says the Vatican "owes God an apology" for mismanagement of abuse allegations.

"I realize you inherited this problem, but the way the Vatican mismanaged this crisis is disgraceful," wrote Gemma Hickey, founder of Pathways Foundation in St. John's.

Newfoundland and Labrador was the site of two highly publicized abuse scandals in the late 1980s, when allegations of widespread abuse at Mount Cashel and Belvedere Catholic orphanages were met with public shock and outrage.

Stories of similar horrors soon began to surface around the world.

But Hickey, a clergy abuse survivor, noted that the province has not had a "pastoral visit" since 1984, before Mount Cashel became an infamous household name.

Hickey felt compelled to write the letter after an August report documented the sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children in six Pennsylvania dioceses over a 70-year period — and after hearing the recent allegation that Pope Francis had prior knowledge of misconduct by a U.S. bishop.

Francis issued a 2,000-word statement addressing the Pennsylvania report, writing that the church "abandoned" the children affected and asking for forgiveness.

Call for response to 'global crisis'

But, said Hickey: "In order to move forward, I believe the Vatican must take full responsibility before a plea for forgiveness can be considered."

Hickey said the Vatican's response ignored extensive damage to communities and expressed disappointment that Francis's widely circulated letter did not address the Pennsylvania cases.

"I view this as the abject failure of the Vatican to acknowledge that actual people in actual communities with specific histories were shattered and brutally harmed at the hands of predacious priests and the bishops who protected them," Hickey wrote.

Pope Francis waves during a visit to Vilnius, Lithuania on Sunday, Sept. 23. Hickey invited the Pope to talk by phone or in person. (Mindaugas Kulbis/Associated Press)

The letter also detailed Hickey's journey to a "ministry in the shape of activism," including founding Pathways to connect with other survivors, and walking across Newfoundland in 2015 for clerical abuse victims.

Hickey wrote that damage from the abuse is ongoing, but grappling with the past has created the opportunity to advocate for change.

"I have forgiven the priest who abused me, as the issue of clerical abuse is larger than him and me," Hickey wrote.

"Your Holiness, just as I made a choice to respond differently to my experience surely you have the capacity to respond differently to this global crisis."

Hickey's letter invited the Pope to talk either by phone or in person.

'Systematic failure'

Since mailing the letter on Sept. 12, Hickey has not received a response, but did have a chance encounter with St. John's Archbishop Martin Currie on a recent flight to Halifax.

In a Facebook post including a photo of Currie and Hickey at the airport, Hickey wrote: "He thinks the Pope should come to Newfoundland, too. It's going to be an interesting flight."

In August, the Archbishop of Halifax said the Roman Catholic church was in crisis and there was an urgent need for change. Archbishop Anthony Mancini condemned the new reports of sexual abuse by priests, saying in a statement he is "devastated" and "ashamed" by the scandal.

Mancini said he has wondered why abuse was covered up and the church's image prioritized over the victims, and decried what he called "the systemic failure of leadership."

"Our Catholic credibility and identity needs to be rebuilt; our authority must become service and not power. The gospel must be recovered from all that has tarnished it," Mancini said.

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John Mayer Shares Heartfelt Letter Dedicated to Mac Miller

John Mayer is reflecting on his friendship with Mac Miller.

On Saturday, the “New Light” singer couldn’t help but share his feelings about the late rapper, who died on Friday. Mayer, 40, posted a photo of Miller and in a heartfelt letter shared how incredible it was to work with him, what a fan he was of his music, and how much he will be missed.

“This was going to be Mac Miller’s year. He made a quantum leap in his music,” Mayer began. “That’s incredibly hard to do, to evolve and get better and more focused while your career is already underway. You don’t get there without a lot of work, and Mac had put the work in. I didn’t expect to play on his album the day he played some songs for me at his house, but when I heard ‘Small Worlds,’ I gave it a short, chirpy little ‘yup,’ which is the highest praise I can give a track.”

“I grabbed the nearest guitar in the room and within a couple of hours we had finished a tune that made me so incredibly happy to have a part in, not to mention we established a nice little friendship,” he continued. “He was so funny I just kind of stopped typing ‘LOL’ back in our texts. Mac was, to me, on permanent LOL status. I gave him whatever guidance I thought I had the right to, having been through the press ringer in the past and wanting him to understand that none of that noise could ever really take a bite out of the music he was about to put out.”

Mayer added that the last time he saw Miller was when he was playing at Hotel Café in Los Angeles for a crowd of 100. The “Gravity” crooner recalled how “nervous” and “honest” Miller was with his fans.

“I thought that was so endearing, especially seeing as he would go on to play one of the best sets I’d seen in a very long time,” he marveled. “Mac put in the work. He made his best album and formed the band that was weeks away from becoming a breakout live sensation. Believe me when I say that. I send my love and support to everyone who knew him better, because what relative little I did, I just adored.”

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This was going to be Mac Miller’s year. He made a quantum leap in his music. That’s incredibly hard to do, to evolve and get better and more focused while your career is already underway. You don’t get there without a lot of work, and Mac had put the work in. I didn’t expect to play on his album the day he played some songs for me at his house, but when I heard “Small Worlds,” I gave it a short, chirpy little “yup,” which is the highest praise I can give a track. It means we don’t need to say another word, it’s going down. I grabbed the nearest guitar in the room and within a couple of hours we had finished a tune that made me so incredibly happy to have a part in, not to mention we established a nice little friendship. He was so funny I just kind of stopped typing “LOL” back in our texts. Mac was, to me, on permanent LOL status. I gave him whatever guidance I thought I had the right to, having been through the press ringer in the past and wanting him to understand that none of that noise could ever really take a bite out of the music he was about to put out. The last time I saw him, he was playing Hotel Cafe’ in Los Angeles for a crowd of 100 people. He was nervous, and honest about it with the audience. I thought that was so endearing, especially seeing as he would go on to play one of the best sets I’d seen in a very long time. His band was unreal. You gotta know that if you weren’t familiar with Mac Miller, you were about to be, whether you would have seen him at a festival, or a friend was going to catch a show and tell everyone they knew about it (like I did.) Mac put in the work. He made his best album and formed the band that was weeks away from becoming a breakout live sensation. Believe me when I say that. I send my love and support to everyone who knew him better, because what relative little I did, I just adored.

A post shared by John Mayer 💎 (@johnmayer) on

Meanwhile, Miller’s mother, Karen Meyers, continues to mourn the loss of her son. On her Instagram on Saturday, she shared a photo of the two at a baseball game. The pic shows the late rapper with his head on his mom as he gives a cheesy smile to the camera.

“💔” Meyers captioned the pic.

In a statement to ET on Friday, Miller’s family said, “Malcolm McCormick, known and adored by fans as Mac Miller, has tragically passed away at the age of 26. He was a bright light in this world for his family, friends and fans. Thank you for your prayers. Please respect our privacy. There are no further details as to the cause of his death at this time.”

The rapper died of an apparent overdose, according to TMZ. A spokesperson for the LAPD tells ET, “There was a radio call related to a death investigation into an adult male” at Miller’s San Fernando Valley home on Friday at 11:42 a.m.

See more in the video below.

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Barack and Michelle Obama Pay Tribute to Aretha Franklin With Heartfelt Letter Read at Funeral

Former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, are continuing to pay their respects to Aretha Franklin.

Although the two could not attend the service in person, they were at the Queen of Soul’s “Celebration of Life” in Detroit, Michigan, on Friday in spirit.

About midway through the funeral, Rev. Al Sharpton read aloud a heartfelt letter that was sent to him from the Obamas.

“From a young age, Aretha Franklin rocked the world of anyone who had the pleasure of hearing her voice,” Barack wrote on behalf of him and Michelle. “Whether bringing people together through a thrilling intersection of genres or advancing important causes through the power of song, Aretha’s work reflected the very best of our American story — in all of its hope and heart, its boldness and its unmistakable beauty.”

Barack and Michelle shared a deeply personal connection with Franklin. Back in 2009, the legendary singer performed “My Country ’Tis of Thee” at Barack’s first presidential inauguration, and was personally invited back to the White House several times while he was in office.

Read the full letter below:

Dear Friends and Family of Aretha:

Michelle and I extend our heartfelt sympathies to all those who have gathered in Detroit, and we join you in remembering and celebrating the life of the Queen of Soul.

From a young age, Aretha Franklin rocked the world of anyone who had the pleasure of hearing her voice. Whether bringing people together through a thrilling intersection of genres or advancing important causes through the power of song, Aretha’s work reflected the very best of our American story—in all of its hope and heart, its boldness and its unmistakable beauty.

In the example she set, both as an artist and a citizen, Aretha embodied those most revered virtues of forgiveness and reconciliation, while the music she made captured some of our deepest human desires: namely affection and respect. And through her own voice, Aretha lifted those of millions, empowering and inspiring the vulnerable, the downtrodden, and everyone who may have just needed a little love.

Aretha truly was one of a kind. And as you pay tribute, know we’ll be saying a little prayer for you. And we’ll be thinking of all of Aretha’s loved ones in the days and weeks to come.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama

Plenty of celebrities gathered together at Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple on Friday to pay their final respects to Franklin, who died on Aug. 16 at the age of 76 from pancreatic cancer. Additionally, stars like Faith Hill, Ariana Grande and Chaka Khan took the stage to perform.

The service continues with upcoming performances by Jennifer Hudson and Jennifer Holliday. See the full funeral lineup here, and watch the video below for more on Franklin.

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Hockey Canada's Renney signs letter asking KHL to let its players go to the Olympics

Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney has signed a letter asking the Kontinental Hockey League to allow its players to participate in the upcoming Winter Olympics, the organization confirmed to CBC Sports.

The letter, reportedly sent together with “some European hockey associations,” comes a day after reports that the State Duma is assisting the KHL in preparing a bill to allow the league to withhold its domestic and foreign-born players from playing at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Renney confirmed to Russian hockey reporter Igor Eronko that he was a signee to the letter, a representative from the organization told CBC Sports. 

If the KHL decides to prevent its players from competing in the Olympics, it would deal another major blow to countries like Canada who already have to form teams without NHL players. Sixteen members of Canada’s 25-man-roster at the recent Karjala Cup in Finland play in the KHL, including goalie Ben Scrivens and forwards Wojtek Wolski and Teddy Purcell.

But International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel told Russian news agency TASS on Monday that the league cannot prevent its players from playing at the Games.

“KHL, being a member of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, has to follow the statutes and bylaws of the IIHF and they have to release foreign players and the national team players from other countries to play in the Olympics,” Fasel said.

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